Thursday, June 26, 2008

“I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be, in a light better than any light that ever shone, in a land no one can define or remember — only desire — and the forms divinely beautiful.”

The quote is from a letter written by the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Edward Burne-Jones. What follows is from my reading journal, January, 2005:

"This is the gift of the imagination, isn’t it? This is the magic of the imagination. And, I wonder if this is the only kind of beauty that endures. The beauty of a flower is evanescent. The beauty of a woman changes with age. I look at Weston’s photographs of Charis, and her physical beauty exists now only in the photographs. I look at the Joyce Tenneson photograph, “Suzanne, 1985,” that I bought a few month ago. Suzanne does not look like that now, twenty years later.

"So, does this mean that the only physical beauty that endures is that which comes from the imagination? Is this why we love art because in art we can create beauty that is not subject to the changes that time inevitably brings? The Grecian urn endures. We decay.

"Looking at some of the photographs from southeast Asia since the tsunami, at survivors and rescue workers with masks covering their nostrils and mouths so they won’t have to smell the bodies. After we die, we stink. All of us.

"In art, all that is good in us is preserved. Milan [my wife] and I go to museums and look at paintings and we wonder who they people were. They are nothing but bones now. What remains is what an artist put on canvas, and what the artist put on canvas may or may not have been who the person was. Certainly, when one looks at photographs of the women painted by the Pre-Raphaelites, they were pretty ordinary and homely looking women. But, in the paintings of Burne-Jones and the others, they were transformed into a beauty that never was but is in the realm of the imagination."

And today, three years later, I would add that one of the sins of the 20th century has been the devaluing of the imagination and of beauty. The consequence is a coarsening of life on every level, especially the spiritual.


Pewfellow: One who sits in the same pew, hence, a companion.

One cannot have too many pewfellows in life, even if you don't go to church.

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